Wednesday, 16 February 2022 16:55

Editorial: Mixed message

Written by  Staff Reporters
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

OPINION: Farmers and growers can rightly feel somewhat confused about the mixed messaging coming from the Government about the risks to the sector from Omicron.

On the one hand, last week Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor announced that the Government had allocated $400,000 to support primary producers for contingency planning and response if farmers or growers get Covid-19.

“The Government is committed to keeping vital workforces going. Primary producers have always been essential workers throughout the pandemic, but as Omicron reaches further into our communities, we are stepping up to ensure we can protect the wellbeing of our rural communities,” the Minister claimed.

“Contingency planning by farmers, growers and lifestyle block owners will minimise the risk of further Covid-19 related disruptions, which can occur anywhere along the supply chain.”

Fine. This is a sensible move considering the importance of the primary sector to the economy of New Zealand.

However, at the very same time O’Connor – along with Climate Change Minister James Shaw – are insisting that farmers and growers attend public consultations over the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) climate proposals. This is despite the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron Covid variant in the country and the potential health risks to farmers, who are deemed essential workers – not to mention the restrictions on public meetings under the red light traffic settings making ‘consultation’ hardly extensive and widespread.

Even the belated move by the Government to extend the consultation period for a month does little to lessen the health risk, especially when the peak of Omicron is expected to hit the country about then and is set to disrupt New Zealanders for months to come.

If the Government really is keen to ensure full and proper consultation (on what Beef+Lamb NZ chairman Andrew Morrison has described as “one of the most important issues for farmers in 2022”), giving farmers right across the country the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives to ask questions about the HWEN proposals, it should be put on hold until proper meetings and consultation can take place.

This latest move does nothing to shift the view that the Government’s mind is already made up on this issue and its ideological drive to pass climate change legislation within strict deadlines has overridden the imperative of full, proper and safe consultation with farmers.

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